• Christian Theology and the Bible is a section of the Society of Biblical Literature. Our task is to explore the intersection between the disciplines of Christian Theology and Biblical Studies. Does or can such an intersection exist? What then could be or would be theological exegesis? What is its relation to religious communities, the history of interpretation, historical theology, history of confession and doctrine, so-called Higher Criticism, etc.?
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Fowl on History and Historical Criticism, pt. 5

This is the fifth in an eight-part series of excerpts from Stephen E. Fowl’s forthcoming volume in the Cascade Companion series. Theological Interpretation of Scripture will be released later this summer by Cascade Books.

Theological Interpretation of ScriptureContents
Introduction: What Sort of a Companion Is This?
One – Scripture: Its Nature and Place in God’s Drama of Salvation
Two – Theological Interpretation and its Relation to Various other Concerns
Three – Practices and Habits of Theological Interpretation
Four – Prospects and Issues for the Future
Five – Guests at a Party

The series of posts will follow Fowl’s sustained discussion of history and historical criticism in the second chapter. Feel free to comment.

Part one Part two Part three Part four


As long as biblical scholars treated the world, past and present, as more or less immediately accessible to them, then the practices, methods, and results of historical criticism confidently dominated academic biblical study. Theological concerns were largely pushed to the margins. To the extent theological concerns received a hearing among biblical scholars it was only as those concerns arose from the assumptions common to historical critics. For Christians, this resulted in the academic subdiscipline of biblical theology. Such work often generated interesting interpretations, but did not directly contribute to the interests and ends of theological interpretation of Scripture. In short, this is because biblical theology was systematically committed to granting historical concerns priority over theological ones. Interestingly, although many Jews fully participated in historical critical study of the Bible, they seem to have recognized the severe theological limitations of biblical theology and did not participate in it. There will be more on biblical theology below.

Scientific, cultural, political, and philosophical movements created conditions for the rise of historical criticism. The past century has witnessed great changes in the intellectual, social, and political climate. These changes worked both to undermine the dominance of historical criticism and to open possibilities for theological and ideological strategies of interpretation.

Recall that historical concerns took precedence over theological concerns in the 18th century only when people assumed they could comprehend the world and its past in more or less immediate ways, apart from the lenses provided by Scripture read theologically. Numerous genocidal conflicts, the rise of quantum physics, the ideological critiques of Marx, the psychoanalytical explorations of Freud, and many other factors now make it clear that we never perceive or comprehend the world and its past without some set of lenses.


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